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Hackers are already targeting Apple's M1 Macs with malware

A security researcher found adware that was specifically designed for the new processor.

Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

Macs with Apple's M1 processor have only been around for a few months, but it didn't take long for hackers to start targeting the systems. Security researcher Patrick Wardle says he has found a malicious app that was created specifically for the powerful M1 chip.

He wrote in a blog post that the Safari adware extension, which is called GoSearch22, was originally designed for Intel x86 processors. It appears to be a variant of the well-known Mac adware Pirrit. Wardle told Motherboard that the malware seems "fairly vanilla" — it collects user data and peppers the screen with illicit ads — but noted that its developers could update GoSearch22 with more harmful functions.

Although new Macs can still run apps designed for Intel x86 chips via emulation, many developers are creating native M1 versions of their software. The existence of GoSearch22, Wardle wrote, "confirms malware/adware authors are indeed working to ensure their malicious creations are natively compatible with Apple’s latest hardware."

Wardle discovered the malware on Alphabet-owned antivirus testing platform VirusTotal, where someone uploaded it in December. The researcher found that, although the platform's antivirus scanners flagged the x86 version of the adware as malicious, 15 percent of them didn't suspect the M1 version of GoSearch22 was malware. That suggests not all antivirus software is fully ready to root out malware designed for M1-based systems. Another researcher, Thomas Reed, told Wired that compiling software for "M1 can be as easy as flicking a switch in the project settings," so it seems hackers might not have to do much to adapt their malware for Apple's latest processor.

GoSearch22 was signed with an Apple developer ID in November, according to Wardle. However, Apple has revoked the adware's certificate, which will make it difficult for users to install it.